HONOLULU – Navy sailor Mickey Ganitch was getting ready to play in a Pearl Harbor football game as the sun came up on Dec. 7, 1941. Instead, he spent the morning — still wearing his football padding and brown team shirt — scanning the sky as Japanese planes rained bombs on the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
Seventy-nine years later, the coronavirus pandemic is preventing Ganitch and other survivors from attending an annual ceremony remembering those killed in the attack that launched the United States into World War II. The 101-year-old has attended most years since the mid-2000s but will have to observe the moment from California this year because of the health risks.
“That’s the way it goes. You got to ride with the tide,” Ganitch said in a telephone interview from his home in San Leandro, California.
Nearly eight decades ago, Ganitch's USS Pennsylvania football team was scheduled to face off against the USS Arizona team. As usual, they donned their uniforms aboard their ships because there was nowhere to change near the field. The pigskin showdown never happened.
The aerial assault began at 7:55 a.m., and Ganitch scrambled from the ship's living compartment to his battle station about 70 feet (21 meters) above the main deck. His job was to serve as a lookout and report “anything that was suspicious.”
He saw a plane coming over the top of a nearby building. Sailors trained the ship's guns on the aircraft and shot it down.
“I was up there where I could see it,” Ganitch said.
The Pennsylvania was in dry dock at the time, which protected it from the torpedoes that pummeled so many other vessels that day. It was one of the first to return fire on the attacking planes. Even so, the Pennsylvania lost 31 men. Ganitch said a 500-pound (227-kilogram) bomb missed him by just 45 feet (14 meters).